Early years policy, provision and research in the context of Northern Ireland: the development of an early years pedagogy Dr Glenda Walsh 30th April 2013 BERA ECE Sig/TACTYC event at University of Winchester
Policy background • Northern Ireland has the youngest starting school age in Europe; • Children are obliged to start school in their 5th year (and can be as young as 4 years 2 months); • Year 1 in Northern Ireland was “too formal, too soon”; • Curriculum review - CCEA (2003) state: • “Children learn best when all areas of an integrated, carefully planned curriculum are implemented informally using methodologies that are interactive, practical and enjoyable. Children should have opportunities to experience much of their learning through well planned and challenging play” (p.7)
The enriched curriculum: A policy initiative • The aim was to remove the early experience of persistent failure and to promote children’s sense of self-competence and self-esteem. • The methods included: • a greater emphasis on play and activity- based learning; • more emphasis on developing oral language skills and on emergent literacy (phonological awareness); • laying foundations in number through sorting, matching, counting rather than formal number recording; • importance placed on the development of concentration, thinking and memory skills.
The early years enriched curriculum evaluation project: evidence to inform policy and practice • Early Years teachers difficulty in achieving a coherent concept of early years pedagogy; • Tension between play as learning and play as a medium to ensure a high level of interest, confidence and overall well being for children (Walsh 2010a, Walsh et al, 2010b); • Ensuring the optimum educational value of play (Walsh et al, 2010b); • Muddled thinking about developmentally appropriate and child-led practice (Sproule et al, 2010, Walsh et al, 2010b).
The Foundation stage curriculum: a policy directive • The FS Curriculum compulsory for all Year 1 classes since September 2007 and Year 2, September 2008; • Emphasises the social, experiential and active nature of learning; • Children in first two years of schooling should “experience much of their learning through well-planned and challenging play” (CCEA, 2007:9); and • Their learning should be supported by teachers who are “committed, sensitive, enthusiastic and interact effectively to challenge children’s thinking and learning” (CCEA, 2007:16).
The FS Curriculum • Content embedded in six Areas of Learning • Training provided
The Political Arena • Every School a Good School: a Policy for School Improvement (DENI, 2009) – emphasis on raising levels of achievement, especially in literacy and numeracy; • Count, Read, Succeed: a strategy to improve outcomes in Literacy and Numeracy (DENI, 2011) • Foundation Stage: Non Statutory Assessment Guidance (CCEA, 2012): • Assess pupil progress in each cross-curricular skill • Assess pupil progress in each of the other skills • Assess pupil progress in each Area of Learning.
Issues arising from translating FS Curriculum into practice: The politicisation of play • Problematising Play as Learning: • High levels of extension and challenge not always in evidence – a tokenistic response • Complex and high level play as a medium to develop children’s powers of thinking and creativity not fully understood • Raises the question whether a play-based curriculum can deliver the ‘educational outcomes’ as identified by the political agenda • Critiquing Play as Pedagogy: • Need to move beyond the confines of a prescriptive pedagogy to a pedagogy based on responsiveness, skilful interactions and playful experiences – grasp ‘learning /teaching moments’;
Towards an effective early years pedagogy • The Concept of ‘Playful Structure’ - Taking all the evidence together… • A new image of early years practice that would preserve all the benefits of a play-based curriculum but address teachers’ difficulties: Playful structure The infusion of playfulness across all activities to preserve the benefits of play The infusion of structure into play to ensure its educational value
The Way Forward – what next? • A change in policy statements alone is insufficient; • Policy statements must be accompanied by policy strategies and appropriate funding ; • Rethink the political arena – The Emperor’s New Clothes??